Following Your Bliss
A Career Advice Column
by Sarah E. Murphy
writer, photoartist, entrepreneur and seasoned job-seeker
Part 1 The Interview: It’s Not All About You
So you landed the interview. Nice work.
This is the stage however, when I used to become filled with anxiety. It was so much easier to sit at your computer or in Dunkin Donuts perusing the classifieds, imagining yourself in the new job. Now you actually have to go in there and prove yourself, sell yourself. Return to the job search/romance metaphor. It’s like having a crush on someone from afar and now they’re actually asking you out on a date. As my brother used to say about my romantic idiosyncrasies, “You like a guy and then once he likes you, you totally freak out.” He’s right. I’d send off my resume and part of me would hope they’d never get in touch with me. Basically because I dreaded the interview.
I guess because I used to walk into it feeling as though my happiness and self-worth was entirely reliant on the outcome. I used to go in with the attitude “Please like me” as if it didn’t matter whether or not I liked them. Again, back to the dating metaphor, when I used to attract men who never fully appreciated me, because I didn’t give off signals that I deserved better. I made it clear that I would settle for anything, so that was exactly what I got.
Now that I’ve had more jobs and been on more interviews, I feel differently. It is no longer just about if the employer feels I am right for them; it is equally imperative that I feel they are the right match for me. I realize now that I bring my own unique traits to an organization, and they have just as much responsibility to impress me during the interview as I have to impress them.
I have learned some valuable lessons in the “working world”, and looking back I realize that many times harbingers were there to indicate the negative experience that resulted. By sharing these experiences I hope to help others steer away from potentially disastrous working situations.
In order to do that I must return to the winter of 1996 when I landed my first “real” post college job. It came equipped with exciting luxuries such as direct deposit and health insurance. I was hired to be the “Operations Manager” of a radio production company in Back Bay, which basically meant doing everything in a three person office that the owner or sound engineer did not do. Anything from scheduling studio time to buying coffee and bagels to making DAT tapes of commercials to distribute to customers after a recording session.
The signs were there in my two interviews that this was not a healthy working environment, but I chose to ignore them. All I cared about was getting a job I’d be proud to tell people about when they asked the ubiquitous question “So what do you do?” (Throughout high school and college, all I could ever think to tell people I wanted to be was a poet, something neither they, nor I ever really took seriously.)
Early into the first interview, Andy, the owner of the company, the sole person I would be working for, made his prickly, sardonic personality evident. No one seemed to find him as amusing as he himself. His assistant, the girl I would be replacing, was bubbly and quirky and highly efficient. Her shoes were ominously large to fill. I had just spent the last year working as a mother’s helper for my friend, a mother of a seven and six year old, who had just given birth to twins, doubling her family. My skills included preparing shepherd’s pie and lasagna, diaper maintenance and sibling intervention. I felt ridiculously out of place, particularly because I had absolutely no computer skills, and most of Ali’s (supergirl assistant) duties were conducted on a computer.
I was never required to take any computer classes in college, so like Math or Science, I steered clear, relying on my Brother word processor. When it wasn’t working, or I needed a new ribbon (which was often) I went to campus to the Catholic Center to use their typewriters, which now seems almost unthinkable. Using a typewriter today is like getting milk from your own cows.
My lack of computer knowledge was discussed immediately, as I am not capable of the requisite resume exaggeration. To the contrary, I am painfully honest, perhaps sometimes too honest. On that day, I literally did not even know how to use a mouse. Initially, this seemed to be an area of great concern for Andy, as Ali also maintained the petty cash fund in QuickBooks™, something he doubted I would be able to handle. I sold myself halfheartedly, for I didn’t even know if I wanted the job, I just felt that I probably should want it.
He described some of the creative awards he had won, and told me about a ceremony he and Ali had been to recently. I silently wondered if this would be expected of me, too. He went on to say what a shame it was she was leaving her job in Boston to live with her boyfriend in San Francisco, saying it almost disapprovingly, and that he didn’t know how he’d manage without her. I began to get a little tired of hearing about Ali, who was busy in the Reception Area cheerfully answering phones amid a mountain of Fed Ex™ packages.
When he told me he had received an exorbitant amount of resumes, my mind began to wander, and I started to think about what train I would be able to catch home. After the interview, I walked the few blocks to my sister’s office to an interview analysis. Nina is ten years my senior and has always been a mentor to me, allowing me to benefit from her experience, as she has experienced everything first. She knew Andy through professional circles and had heard he was difficult. Relieved, I told her I didn’t think I had a chance at all.
Much to my surprise and subtle disappointment, a few days later Ali left an incredibly overenthusiastic message on my machine, saying Andy would like me to come back for a second interview.
This time Andy was a little more laid back and a little more encouraging. He said that if I took an introductory computer course at my own expense, he would be willing to take a chance on me. How good of him.
We then took another tour of the recording studio, this time more casually, he cracking sarcastic jokes, Ali laughing punctually. I admired some Grinch artwork on the wall and he beamed at her. “I think she’s definitely going to fit in,” he said as if I weren’t in the room. “You should have seen some of the others who applied,” he said to me conspiratorially, and went on to describe one “freak” who had never made it in for an interview. He then went into his office and returned moments later with the cover letter of said freak. “Check this out,” he said, and began to read it aloud in an animated fashion, as if it were copy for one of his radio commercials. I should have known right then that this was not the kind of person I wanted to work for, as this was not only appallingly unprofessional, but also cruel. They kept looking to me for a reaction, so I laughed weakly, knowing in my gut this definitely wasn’t the place for me. But I ignored that little voice in my head, and against my better judgment, accepted the position.
- Sarah E. Murphy